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‘THE SYSTEM FAILED THE NIGERIAN PEOPLE’: VOTERS OUTRAGED Security forces on alert as outbreak of violence feared

BY MIKE PFLANZ
The Daily Telegraph, with files from Reuters

LAGOS • Election observers are demanding that Nigeria’s chaotic presidential polls be re-run following the failure to deliver ballot papers in half the country.

Security forces were on full alert ahead of the release of the first results today as widespread outbreaks of violence are feared. Ruling party candidate Umaru Yar’Adua looked set to win, early results showed.

“You cannot use the result from half of the country to announce a new president,” said Innocent Chukwuma, chairman of the respected Transition Monitoring Group. Ballot papers failed to turn up or arrived late in more than half of the country’s 120,000 polling stations, outraging voters who claimed the hitches were part of a ruling party plan to stay in power.

“I think that really could be the case,” said Edward McMillanScott, a Tory MP in Britain and senior European Union election observer. “That way there is an outbreak of violence, and they can declare a state of emergency and hold onto power for another six months or more.”

Max van den Berg, head of the EU team, whose official report is expected to be released today, said: “For now the assessment is outspokenly negative. I’m very concerned.”

“The system failed the Nigerian people and suffers from a lack of credibility … the Nigerian people were failed by their leaders,” said Pierre Richard Prosper of the International Republican Institute, which monitored the vote.

The IRI, a U.S.-based pro-democracy group, said both the presidential election and regional polls a week ago fell below international standards and levels set in previous votes.

The biggest local monitoring group, which had 10,000 observers around Africa’s most populous nation, said voting was either delayed for hours or did not occur at all in many areas.

The election was supposed to have marked the first handover of power from one civilian, democratically chosen leader to another since this country of 140 million people won independence from Britain in 1960.

Many had hoped that the election to choose a successor to President Olusegun Obasanjo would be a clear demonstration that Africa’s second-largest economy had turned its back on decades of misrule.

But the outlook was bleak as a leading opposition candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, threatened to call his supporters onto the streets if the result showed a win for the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

Mr. Buhari said in an interview: “We will not accept it. Clearly there was no election in more than half of the states.” He said he would ask the National Assembly to impeach Mr. Obasanjo.

Meanwhile, Atiku Abubakar, a second opposition candidate, said: “My impression is that this is a sham. It is no election.”

Nigeria is the world’s sixthlargest oil producer and global prices soared ahead of the vote. Any further fighting is likely to pressure the market even further. Several British firms, including Shell, operate in the oil-rich states of the Niger river delta, where gunmen attempted to assassinate the ruling party’s vice-presidential candidate on Friday. The armed attack was foiled by soldiers. More than 210 died in the fighting in the lead-up to Saturday’s landmark vote. And Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said voters had faced “the threat of violence, intimidation and fraud”.

In the sprawling and polluted commercial capital, Lagos, voting started three hours late, and most polling stations had only half the ballot papers they needed. In the northern town of Daura troops opened fire when hundreds of youths smashed cars and set fire to roadside shacks after thousands of ballots were reported missing. Three boys aged between 11 and 17 died, and 10 other people were injured.

Meanwhile, thugs armed with cutlasses and guns stole ballot boxes in northern Kano and an election official was kidnapped in southwestern Ondo state. Nigeria’s state media have reported that nine policemen were killed by highway robbers on their way to election duties in central Nasarawa state.

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